Food News

Is this Melbourne’s most expensive seafood dish?

At Sun Kitchen, the prawn, abalone and sea cucumber-filled Imperial Treasure claypot will set you back an easy $398.

By Audrey Bourget
Sun Kitchen's Imperial Treasure claypot.
Is there a limit to your luxe? When the Cantonese-Sichuan lakeside restaurant Sun Kitchen opened in Melbourne's Albert Park in April, the talk of the town was its wine cellar – some 888 wine labels, 6000 bottles, valued at just under $1.5 million.
And sure, the vino display is impressive. In the temperature-controlled cellar on the first floor lies an encyclopaedic collection of bottles that immediately conjures comparisons to the Wine Bank at Sydney's Golden Century.
But we're here for the Imperial Treasure seafood claypot, the lavishly named dish with a premium price tag to match. Here, $398 buys you a glistening treasure trove of the finest jewels of the sea, from fresh king prawns, scallops and black-lip abalone from Western Australia, and dried-then-braised fish maw (fish swim bladder) from China, sea cucumber from Kanto, Japan, and oysters from Hong Kong. The whole enterprise is ringed by chunky florets of broccoli and rests on a bed of Chinese cabbage.
The wine cellar at Sun Kitchen.
Curious? It's yours, provided you order the dish two days ahead. "It can't be rushed or made last minute. Every single ingredient is very precious," says Annie Fan, Sun Kitchen's director of food and beverage.
It's take a fiddly four days to prepare and cook the dish. The dried sea cucumber and fish maw, for example, need to be soaked in water for up to five hours, simmered, rinsed, then simmered again. It's a two-day process just to soften the ingredients and remove all impurities. The dried oysters, too, need to be soaked at room temperature to purge any remaining sand and grit, and the abalone is slow-braised for a day in superior chicken stock and oyster sauce.
On the day of service, the seafood ingredients are laid in the claypot with the Chinese cabbage and braised for an hour with more of that chicken stock, oyster sauce and "seasonings" (the restaurant is cagey about exactly what these are). Broccoli is lightly sautéed and added to the pot towards the end of the cooking process.
And that's not all. When the immaculately white claypot dish is delivered to your clothed table, the waiter lifts the lid with a theatrical flourish to reveal the premium goods inside. Your weekday cheap eats feed this is not.
Chef Chan Kwok.
Hong Kong-born executive chef Chan Kwok says the dish is typically reserved for Lunar New Year and family celebrations, or for corporate types seeking to close a business deal. "Our customers generally know the taste of dried oyster and sea cucumber. They've been exposed to these kinds of flavours," he says. "We'd also like new people to try it."
He recommends starting on the fresh prawns and scallops, and then moving on the dried seafood which have a more intense flavour and texture: the abalone is firm and fleshy, the fish maw jelly-like and gelatinous, and the sea cucumber – the chef's favourite, and the most prized ingredient of the dish – prickly and with a slight crunch.
And don't dismiss that bed of cabbage. It may be the cheapest ingredient in the pot, but Chan says it plays an integral part in soaking up the flavours of the sauce and seafood.
As with all Chinese-style banquets, the dishes at Sun Kitchen are to be enjoyed with a group of people. The Imperial Treasure seafood claypot in particular is designed to serve six people. So you know what to do – gather five of your richest friends, and hope they'll get the bill.
Sun Kitchen, 9 Aquatic Drive, Albert Park, Vic, sunkitchen.com.au.
Open for lunch Sat and Sun, 11.30am–3pm and dinner Sun – Thu 5.30pm – 10pm, Fri – Sat 5.30pm – 11pm.